It has been a difficult stretch for Sirwan Kakai. He was released from his Ultimate Fighting Championship contract in 2015 and finds himself on his first two-fight losing streak as a professional. However, he does not sound like a man in desperation mode.
Kakai faces former two-division Bellator MMA champion Joe Warren in the Bellator 161 co-main event on Friday at the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas. The American Top Team-trained Swede has remained as calm as ever in the days leading up to what amounts to the most significant fight of his career.
“I don’t feel like I have this pressure on me, even though I do because I have trained so hard for this fight,” Kakai told Sherdog.com. “I am more focused and motivated than ever, and I’m more confident. I’ve been changing some things up, and through all the hard work I’ve done, it makes me so much more confident. I think he might have more pressure than me.”
Kakai took an odd route to Bellator. He was eliminated twice on “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series before finally reaching the UFC. He accepted a bout with Danny Martinez on less than a week’s notice at UFC Fight Night “Machida vs. Romero” in June 2015 and earned a unanimous verdict. However, after Kakai lost a split decision to Frankie Saenz two months later, also on short notice, he was released by the Las Vegas-based promotion. He later signed with Bellator but remains miffed as to why the UFC opted to sever ties with him.
“I don’t know why the UFC cut me,” Kakai said. “A lot of people thought I won that fight [against Saenz], and it was a close decision and it was a good fight. My fight before that was exciting, too, but I don’t know. I can’t answer that question. I don’t know the reason why the UFC cut me.”
Regardless of why he was told to pack his bags, Kakai has found a home in Bellator. He has a significant hurdle in front of him in Warren, the 39-year-old self-proclaimed “Baddest Man on the Planet.” Warren was an NCAA All-American wrestler at the University of Michigan and went on to strike Greco-Roman gold at the 2006 FILA Wrestling World Championships. Kakai claims to be in the best shape of his career ahead of his showdown with Warren.
“I think he’s a very mentally tough person, and he has good Greco-Roman wrestling and he knows how to use that in MMA,” he said. “His striking is getting better and better, but I expect him to be better [than me] on the ground where I expect to be better than him [standing]. But I don’t focus too much on him. I focus more on myself. I mean, I feel that he will be like an animal that has been pushed against the wall, and I expect him to be dangerous. When I watch tape of him, I expect to win no matter what. You will see that when we fight.”
Kakai sees the battle with Warren as something of a turning point in a life devoted to MMA training. His relationship with the sport started innocently enough.
“I watched the early UFCs, and I didn’t even know what it was,” Kakai said. “It was like a freak show because it was very violent, and I was so shocked when I saw it. I couldn’t believe what I was watching because there was this guy who was like 350 pounds fighting a guy who was maybe 185 pounds. There were no rules, no gloves and it was madness.
“I had two friends growing up: One was a boxer and one was a wrestler,” he added. “I went to the gym to work out with them and then I saw some guys training in mixed martial arts, and that’s when I made the connection. It was two guys fighting in a cage doing everything, and in my head, I knew that if I trained really hard, I would beat my friends. I fell in love with it.”
At a young age, Kakai was uncertain as to what MMA could do for him, outside of teaching him self-defense. He worked construction for a time but soon discovered he preferred punching people in the face to digging holes.
“Back then, I didn’t understand that I could do this for a career,” Kakai said. “I was doing it because it was fun and it was a challenge, but I didn’t think I could do it for a living. Then I saw this show on TV where these two guys traveled all over the world and visited these martial arts gyms, and they were training with these legends like Bas Rutten and Randy Couture. At that time, I said to myself that I wanted to do that. I changed my lifestyle, and now I’m here.”